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If you want to stop crime, start early

Hon. Matt Robson

June 14 2002

Speech Notes

If you want to stop crime, start early

Speech to the Prison Fellowship of New Zealand conference, Matamata.

Early intervention: works best, costs less

Thank you for inviting me here tonight to speak.

It’s been a long standing invitation. I think you invited me about four months ago.

None of us predicted that I’d be speaking to you three days into an election campaign.

In some ways it’s perfect timing, because I’m here to talk about the political challenges facing crime prevention.

And those challenges become clearer than ever during an election campaign.

After the last election I was attacked by some for being too soft.

Now, two and half years later I’m attacked for building new regional prisons and being too tough!

I am standing for a new party - The Progressive Coalition - which is made up with all the same people from the old party (minus a few that were causing trouble).

I didn’t predict that two and half years ago either.

So - welcome to election year 2002.

You’ve asked me to talk tonight about how we reintegrate offenders back into the community, after they have been released from prison, and the political challenges that poses.

I want to start at the other end, and work my way towards that.

Because the common thread that links what we do with at-risk kids, with inmates in prison, and with released offenders is this - the prevention of crime.

I believe that we can intervene at any stage of the life of an offender, from birth onwards.

I know that some find that controversial, but I believe it is a challenge we must face.

It’s all about the right kind of intervention.

Tired or meaningless slogans are easy to churn out in an election.

What is hard is setting aside political ideology and focusing only on “what works’. Not what sounds “tough’ or “soft’, “right wing’ or “left wing’.

And “what works’, takes time. There are no quick fixes. Anyone who says there is, is not telling the truth.

Early Intervention

Early intervention works.

It is the most successful of all interventions. More successful than programs in prison, more successful than post release re-integration.

That doesn’t mean we don’t do the other interventions. Of course we do, and I’ll talk about those soon. But we must be realistic about where we can be most successful.

I want to show you some images. (SEE CARDS IN PACKS)

Does that make you feel uncomfortable?

We are hiding our heads in the sand if we don’t face the fact that there are kids out there who will become tomorrow’s:

- Murderers

- Burglars

- Rapists

- Arsonists

But we can do something to prevent it.

We can’t predict with absolute accuracy who those kids are of course, but we have a pretty good idea.

It’s common sense.

We have third generation unemployed. Whole families who have never known what it is to have a job.

We have third generation prison inmates. Whole families who have made crime a career for generations.

We have kids getting into trouble at school and playing truant, sometimes for whole years.

New Zealand has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancies in the western world.

These groups in our society are at risk.

I don’t want to punish teenage mums, I want to give them the skills to be good mothers and the confidence to develop their own lives.

I don’t want to rescue a problem child from their family, I want the child to be validated and supported so he or she has the skills to deal with it.

I want experts to work with that family.

Last year I released my report on early intervention and reducing the numbers in prisons, called About Time.

It found that an intervention with an aggressive, defiant five year old costs about $5000 and has a success rate of 70%.

The same behaviour at the age of 25 costs $20,000 and has a success rate of only 20%.

So it makes sense to target aggressive behaviour as early as possible.

In this years budget we:

- Increased the funding for social workers in schools;

- Increased funding for violence prevention programs in the family;

- Secured $12 million to set up Day Reporting Centres for young teenagers not yet heading to prison, but on their way;

- Started YOTs (Youth Offending Teams) across New Zealand made up of personnel from Child Youth and Family, Police, education and Health.

What better way to keep the public safe than to intervene before kids start out on a life of crime?

As part of the next government I will continue this progressive work in coalition.

For example, work with school principals in low decile areas who want one-stop-shops to help handle kids in trouble.

These one-stop-shops are units attached to schools and run by community workers, police youth aid officers, health professionals and others.

And they work.

Intervention in the courts

Of course, no matter how effective our early intervention strategy, some offenders will slip through the net and make it into the court system.

My goal in government has always been intervention.

I have introduced interventions in the court system, in the form of Restorative Justice pilots.

So far, the pilot has proven very successful - for the victims - for the offenders - for their families.

The new Sentencing Act puts restorative justice in the mainstream.

This is a world first. It is the first time that, in a key piece of legislation governing sentencing, judges are authorised to utilise restorative justice.

These are proving invaluable in our courts system, and I want to build on that success in the next government.

I also want to continue pursuing Restorative Justice programs in prison, and build on the success of the Sycamore programme in Hawkes Bay Prison.

- Victims and offenders are brought together under supervision.

- Offenders come face to face with the consequences of their crime.

- They listen, see the damage and they feel shame.

- It’s very powerful and it works.

Intervention in the prison

When 92% of New Zealanders voted in the last election for tougher sentences, they were thinking of what I call “the terrible few’ - the most violent offenders.

This government has introduced longer sentences for the worst offenders. Life can indeed mean life.

That’s why I need more prisons, to cater for the extra inmates.

Longer sentences are no longer an issue. How we stop crime is.

Most people in prison are not the “terrible few’ we see on the 6 o’clock news.

- 29 percent are in prison for property offences

- 22 percent for traffic offences

- 20 percent for other offences including drugs.

I have made it my job to target and intervene with these offenders while they are in prison.

Because it is these groups who go on to re-offend the most, and graduate to become violent offenders if we don’t stop them.

I have promoted specialised units that target:

- drug and alcohol problems

- sex offenders

- drivers who continually drive while disqualified

- plus youth units and Maori focus units

Because the targeted approach works best.

Research shows that if you spend $1 million on dedicated drug treatment for example, you will reduce the re-offending rate for serious crime fifteen times more than if you spent the same amount on only increasing prison sentences.

- The Making Our Drivers Safe program has halved the reconviction rate of these offenders and reduced the number of victims.

- The Kia Marama program in Rolleston prison, which targets sex offenders, has halved re-offending when compared to those who did not receive treatment.

Intervention on release from prison

No minister of corrections should take his or her eye off the ball once an offender is released from prison.

If ex-inmates are not going to re-offend, then on release they must be:

- Monitored

- Employed

- And their families not left to cope on their own.

It is sad that those protesting against my new regional prison in Northland don’t want to see that regional prisons are about reducing re-offending, and making sure offenders are close to family and community support when released.

Last month I introduced the Kaiwhakamana scheme, to give kaumatua greater access to inmates. Kaumatua will now be given the same status as a minister when they visit the prisons.

I am particularly enthusiastic about my new scheme Start Over, which sets out to attract employers who want to contribute to community safety by employing released offenders.

We already have respected employers like Gilbert Ullrich of Ullrich Aluminium involved.

I am determined to build on this early success as part of the next government.

In similar schemes overseas, released offenders in stable jobs committed only one quarter as many violent offences as unemployed offenders.


So in conclusion, I want to throw down a challenge to this conference.

We will work together to expand restorative justice in the courts, the prisons and beyond.

I want your support not only for the interventions I am doing in the prisons and after release from prison.

I want your support for early intervention with kids at risk because this is where we have the most chance of success.

In the next government I will:

- Implement early intervention strategies

- Expand crime prevention programs in the prisons

- Put released offenders into proper jobs

I will get to tomorrow’s criminals before they get to you.

My job doesn’t start when an offender enters one of my prisons, and end when he or she leaves.

It starts in the homes of kids at risk, it starts in the schools when a kid becomes disruptive and skips class, it starts in the courts when a teenager appears before a judge on his first offence.

And it continues when an offender is released from jail and returns to their family where there is a child waiting who doesn’t need to follow in dad’s foot-steps.

It’s just common sense: if you want to stop crime, start early.


Check out: or Full text of the About Time report is at:

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